Taking Chances is a sporadically amusing trifle of a comedy that could have been much more. That might not sound like a particularly fair criticism -- after all, we're stuck with the movie they made, not the one that might have been -- but there is enough spark in this low-key indie to make you wish the filmmakers had been a bit more disciplined in crafting their oddball characters.
Set in the fictitious small town of Patriotville, the movie ponders what denotes economic salvation in recession-hit rural America. In this case, town leaders, led by the conniving Mayor Cleveland Fishback (Rob Corddry), are seduced by the idea of luring a proposed Indian casino. The only problem is that the would-be gaming center would be located on the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield and the town's historical society museum.
Everyone in Patriotville seems to think the casino will be the town's salvation, but there is one skeptic: Chase Revere (Justin Long), the sad-sack curator of the aforementioned history museum. Chase is determined to keep Patriotville's history from being supplanted by bingo and slot machines, and so he solicits help from his horn-dog best friend (Keir O'Donnell) and Lucy (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a beautiful young woman harboring some daddy issues. But what exactly compels Chase to take on the town's elders -- including his father, who runs a ramshackle motel -- is unclear. Chase often dons a powdered wig and Revolutionary War garb, but there is precious little else to support his ostensible protectiveness of the town's role in American history.
Then again, director Talmage Cooley and screenwriter Annie Nocenti don't trouble themselves sharpening motives. Lucy is particularly enigmatic, and one senses it's less by design than by incompetence. SPOILER ALERT (skip to paragraph after next if you don't wanna know) The audience is expected to accept her and Chase as ostensibly believable characters, but that is compromised when we learn Lucy is having an affair with the mayor, who is so cartoonishly evil as to be ludicrous. What is her attraction to this utter clod? If there are shades of complexity to Lucy, they are not tapped by Chriqui's emotional range.
Then there is the nonsensical ending. The movie boasts a twist that would've been a heckuva lot ore pleasing if the filmmakers had bothered to set it up as halfway credible. But they didn't, and it just comes off as deus ex machina silliness. Adding insult to injury is a voiceover narration that drifts in from nowhere at the tail end to explain that what we've just seen is a coming-of-age story.
Not that Taking Chances doesn't have its wry moments. Despite some unfortunate miscalculations, especially a caricaturish treatment of American Indians, the movie occasionally veers close to its comic potential. A first-rate cast certainly helps. Long has an appealing everyman persona, and Corddry, who more and more is starting to resemble a rabid Boston terrier, is always good for some maniacal scenery-chewing.
Also worthwhile in Taking Chances are character actors whose faces are more recognizable than their names, including Brian Howe, Missi Pyle, Jimmi Simpson, David Jensen and Nick Offerman, who is one of the best things on television's Parks & Recreation. Still, a talented cast is not enough to acquit the film amid the ever-burgeoning field of quirky indie comedies.The DVD
The watermarked screener provided for review does not reflect final product, and therefore cannot be judged fairly for video quality. This review will be updated if a final DVD version is provided at a later date.The Audio:
See above. The sound is often hollow and muddy, but the review screener in no way reflects final product for the DVD version.Extras:
No extras are on the screener provided for review, but the screener appears to be solely for theatrical purposes - so, again, this review cannot fairly assess if there even is bonus material.Final Thoughts:
A dreary, forgotten town willing to do literally anything to lure a casino has comic potential, particularly when the town in question is willing to turn its back on its role in American history. When you toss in Justin Long, Rob Corddry and a cast of dependable players, you're on to something. Alas, Taking Chances doesn't heed the advice of its own title, instead settling for a clumsy, formulaic scenario.